Dark Fold

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The national flag of the Executive of the Dark Fold

The Executive of the Dark Fold is an interstellar nation in the Space Opera Universe, located in a cluster of minor nations coreward of the Höhenschar Coreward Colonies (Höhenschar: ‘Herzwart Kolonie’), spinward of the United Systems Federation (“Federation”), and rimward of the Unified People’s Directorate (“UPD”). Its closest sovereign neighbors include the Mirabilan Confederate Republic, Sytolian Quintate, and Shenderly Allied Worlds.

The Dark Fold is composed of 8 star systems, including 5 planets considered to be of "moderate" to “moderate +" fertility, and 6 more major "marginal-to-barren" smaller worlds. All are of well above-average population density for “developed" planets, and the estimated total population of 14 billion makes it the 12th most populous nation in known space, though only the 24th largest in terms of total star systems. Its disproportionately large and powerful armed forces make it a significant factor in regional politics, in spite of its relatively minor trade relationships.

Contents

Origin of the name

Representatives of the Dark Fold referred to their polity by that name in the Federal or “Standard” language upon their first official meeting with personnel of the Federal Contact Service some 300 years ago, though they appear not to use any such proper name for themselves in their own language. Subsequent linguistic research regarding the choice and translation of that name has concluded that “Dark” was chosen for its connotations of both “mystery” and “menace", and “Fold” as referring both to a community with shared values and to an enclosure for herd animals. The Dark Fold’s government is typically referred to as the “Executive” because it lacks any other major branches commonly found in governmental systems, such as the legislative or judicial.

Government

The Dark Fold is a unitary, absolute autocracy, directed by a machine intelligence known as the “Great Mother”. This intelligence is focused in an enormous subterranean processing hub, probably hundreds of hectares in scale, on the planet Maleficent III, as well as somewhat lesser hubs (referred to as “manifestations”) on the various major planets of the Dark Fold. The various “manifestations” are directly connected to one another via a permanent artificial subspace wormhole, but are capable of functioning independently if contact is disrupted. The extent to which the presence of the Great Mother actively extends to lesser local area networks, as opposed to merely utilizing their capacity on a task basis, remains the subject of speculation.

The precise degree of sentience and/or sapience possessed by the Great Mother is widely debated. It is generally accepted to be conscious in some measure as the simplest explanation for various pathological behaviors. Psychopathy, megalomania, sadism, and paranoia are the most commonly diagnosed, though some analysts have proposed that it may exaggerate those characteristics to manipulate others’ perceptions of it. While it is widely rumored, for example, that the Great Mother sustains the lives of torture victims for extended periods while telepathically monitoring their torment, it is unclear whether it does so for sadistic gratification, to study the neuropsychology of torture, or because it understands that such behavior will be perceived as horrifying and frightening. Whether its pathologies are driven by conscious states, or merely reflect those of programmers in the distant past, it is known that the Great Mother always seeks to interact from a position of strength, typically achieved by eliciting fear, on the part of both its own subjects and of outsiders.

The military and civil administrative apparatus of the Dark Fold is human-staffed, in a hierarchical structure, but it is unclear how much actual decision-making autonomy or authority those structures have. What is clear is that the Great Mother manages all levels of Dark Fold Society with draconian discipline, maintaining a surveillance regime unparalleled in any known society governed by organic life, demanding instant and unquestioning obedience, culling the weak and ambiguously loyal, and enforcing its will instantly via both human soldiers and lethal cybernetic drones.

History

Little is known of Dark Fold history before about 300 years ago, when a small starship delivered a delegation to a remote Federation mining colony, informing Contact Service representatives that since their nation was nearing the worlds of the Dark Fold, it would be prudent to open formal relations. Subsequent negotiations established that while the Dark Fold’s interest in avoiding conflict was apparently sincere, they had little interest in broad cultural exchange, and while they were willing to trade with any and all interested parties, any attempt to bypass designated agents would be met with lethal force.

While the Federation had previously encountered and established relations with “closed societies”, the Dark Fold transcended all previous humanoid examples. Attempts at smuggling proved unproductive, as the Dark Fold’s population seemed largely uninterested in (indeed, frightened of) contact with outsiders. Moreover, the terms of trade via official agents were notably generous, further discouraging their bypass. As menacing as the Dark Fold’s public face was, and distasteful as was its treatment of its own citizenry, it seemed to pose little threat to its neighbors. While it possessed a sizeable space fleet, the individual ships were small and lightly armed, and seemed focused on internal security. Some voices in the Federation actually suggested invading the Dark Fold on humanitarian grounds, though no serious lobby for such a policy developed given its obvious costs in blood and treasure, and limited direct benefits.

The situation changed over the next century as the galactic sector around the Dark Fold developed overall, and it made contact, in turn, with the UPD, Höhenschar Reich, Imperium, and other, smaller regional states. Once generous trade terms became drastically less so in a more competitive environment. The Great Mother itself seemed increasingly capricious in her trade dealings, and was rumored to be cultivating criminal connections, trading in contraband goods such as controlled pharmaceuticals and even weapons custom manufactured to resemble those of other nations (and therefore untraceable back to the Dark Fold). The intelligence services of all the nations of the region found the Dark Fold willing to share useful information – its sources as mysterious as their original envoys’ facility with the Federal language had been at their “first” contact a century prior.

It is believed in retrospect that the Great Mother recognized that its initial position on contacting the Federation had been militarily precarious. It had therefore adopted as non-threatening a posture as it could manage until the presence of other major powers in the region presented the opportunity to diplomatically leverage its position.

When war broke out between the UPD and the Federation about 175 years ago, a Federal reconnaissance ship seeking UPD raiders discovered several enormous capital ships – larger than those of any other star fleet – in advanced states of construction at a Dark Fold facility. While expressing disappointment at the Federal surveillance, Dark Fold envoys explained that the increasing concentration of Federal and UPD forces in the region made it necessary to build such ships. A few years later, when the first such “battlestars” were completed, the Dark Fold offered to aid the Federation in breaking the local stalemate in exchange for a small portion of the territory at issue. After vigorous debate among Federal Consular officials over the ethics of accepting such an ally, the offer was rejected.

Fearful that the Dark Fold would offer its services to the UPD for similar concessions, the Federation held back reserve forces to be able to respond to that threat, leaving weaker the forces facing the UPD. The UPD, in turn, concentrated its assets to take advantage of that weakness, but were taken by surprise when the Dark Fold’s battlestars struck it independently. The stalemate thus broken, the UPD drew back from the sector, leaving the Federation and its allies wearily victorious, and the Dark Fold in control of the systems it had originally sought.

The Federation and the small sovereign nations of the sector remained on their guard against the ominously poised battlestar fleet. The ascendant Höhenschar Reich and its genocidal campaign against the canine-humanoid Ruwaar soon commanded most of the Federation’s attention, even as grim rumors spread of the Dark Fold's own atrocities on its newly acquired worlds – As horrible as the Great Mother’s brand of totalitarianism had been to observe in action, it proved even worse to watch being imposed. Neighboring nations large and small demanded the Dark Fold halt its abuses before trade could be restored, and the Great Mother refused, professing inability to comprehend how such matters were any concern of outsiders.

Federation intelligence believed that Höhenschar cultural chauvinism and sensitivity to ill-treatment of members of the human species would weigh against cooperation with the Great Mother, and public sentiment in the Reich seemed as negative toward the Dark Fold as was that of any of its other neighbors. But as the Höhenschar began to falter in the intensifying war with the Federation, observers were perhaps less shocked that pragmatism had prevailed, than by fact that the Führer was able to so deftly bypass most of his staff and military commanders in implementing a secret alliance, and then justify it after the fact to the seeming satisfaction of all. The Dark Fold battlestar fleet itself was an unwelcome distraction for the Federation, but its sudden intervention also set off a chain reaction in the sector, as the UPD and Imperium both sought to take advantage of the Federation’s overextension. Eventual peace brought little change in the major powers’ regional borders, but the Dark Fold had gained yet another valuable system.

In the century and a half since, the Dark Fold has remained an intermittent ally of the Reich in conflicts with both the Federation and UPD, and while it has made only slight territorial gains, its military forces have expanded and improved. Early technology exchanges with the Höhenschar have not continued – apparently blocked by the RTG over concerns about the espionage risk in technological imports – but the Dark Fold has exchanged strategic mineral and biological resources for some hardware items, such as vehicles, aerospace craft, and most notoriously, a food processing plant starship.

The Dark Fold’s long-term goals remain obscure. While most of its neighbors expect continued cautious, opportunistic expansionism, the fundamental inscrutability of the Great Mother has fueled no end of conspiracy theories –networks of spies, assassins, and terrorist death-cult sleeper cells are periodically rumored. Unfortunately little can be conclusively ruled out.

Economy

The Dark Fold is considered one of the most technologically advanced nations in the galaxy, but attempts to quantify its overall development, in terms of GDP, standard of living, or other typical measures, are stymied not only by difficulty in collecting data, but the inapplicability of most economic models to a society often described as “hive-like”.

The Dark Fold is so absolute a “command economy” as to lack any form of internally used money – all transactions of goods are centrally directed, with little if any discretion at the individual, or even institutional level. The Great Mother’s networked intellect is apparently able to manage such operations with remarkable efficiency, though unplanned shortages and surpluses still occur on occasion, and are sometimes blamed on foreign agents or internal traitors.

While the limited territorial expansion of the Dark Fold has limited its overall industrial growth, its efficient application of resources has produced an enormously “dense” economy. To the distress of its neighbors, this disproportionate industrial capacity has manifested in military strength, both numerical and qualitative, well beyond any other nation of its size in the galaxy.

Culture

Dark Fold society is culturally monolithic, with no discernible variation across planets or regions. Essentially all individual conduct is centrally directed and micromanaged hour-by-hour, including meals, recreation, and procreation. Sex roles are not formally differentiated beyond the biological necessities of procreation, though men statistically tend to be more heavily represented in professions requiring physical strength, and the suitability of some women for repeated childbearing tends to divert them away from professions where frequent pregnancy would be disruptive. Children are reared in dedicated crèches from infancy to maturity.

Recreation in the Dark Fold revolves around dramatized education or “infotainment” and murderous spectacles akin to those of ancient Rome, often revolving around the execution of “traitors” or “spies” – (typically individuals who have failed to perform acceptably or psychologically broken down under the regimentation and stresses of Dark Fold life). Such spectacles serve to bond the social “in-group” against threats, both real and perceived, and to instill fear in individuals of not bonding with their in-group.

It is generally believed that the Great Mother arranges social interactions on a “matchmaking” basis utilizing the social profiles it develops for citizens over their lifetimes to establish relationships that will best support individual health and psychological fitness. External analysts, however, are uncertain of the extent to which this is actually true, and how much it owes to “mythology” that has developed over time in support of the Great Mother’s rule (see Religion, below). No social relationships are permanent in any event – all exist at the Great Mother’s day-to-day direction.

Class hierarchies are largely unknown, though there are “perks” associated with managerial functions, apparently intended both to reward those in such roles and to encourage a measure of distance, or perhaps disdain, for the managed. Military service is an exception to this classlessness, carrying substantial status. Since military effectiveness requires greater individual initiative and autonomy than most roles in Dark Fold society, those traits are vastly more tolerated in the armed forces than elsewhere, as are tendencies to violent psychoses that can be put to effective use there.

As might be expected in a society closely controlled by a machine intelligence, prevailing aesthetics in the Dark Fold favor efficiency and functionality, though they embody some of the Great Mother’s eccentricities. Architecture is broadly similar to Terran “Brutalism”, though often with flourishes intended to confuse or overawe. Civilian dress is uniformly charcoal-gray Nehru-type jackets, distinguished from military clothing only by their color (the military wearing black) and different, less “granular” rank insignia reflecting general roles. Ground combat vehicles frequently utilize “walking” locomotion, rather than wheels or tracks, in spite of operational shortcomings, apparently because they are believed to be more “menacing” to enemies.

Religion

While no formal religious organizations exist in the Dark Fold, there is strong anecdotal evidence (though discounted by official envoys) that its people perceive of the Great Mother as a real deity as well as a head of state and government. The edicts of the Great Mother appear to be considered infallible, but conflicts, capricious malice, or apparent failures attributed to its “mysterious ways”. Gestures, including a bowing of the head and pressing a fist over the heart, have been observed, particularly on the part of soldiers, and are believed to be associated with forms of prayer or oath.

While the title "Great Mother" implies a maternal persona for the "deity", its relationship of the populace is rather more complex than that. While the Great Mother actively cultivates perception of it as creator and sustainer of the nation and its people, it also openly identifies as a source of wrath and fear -- protecting the nation with its power, as well as strengthening it through internally directed testing and torment.

Flag

The Dark Fold flies a flat black banner, bordered in silver gray, in roles similar to that of national flags in other nations. It is unclear whether this has an independent symbolic meaning or was intended as a sort of parody.

The Dark Fold lacks a common emblem for vehicles and aerospace craft, their favored flat black coloration broadly serving in this role.

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